Happy Friday, everyone! We have a busy few days of soccer this weekend between Orlando City, the Orlando Pride, and the United States Men’s National Team. First up though are the Lions, who will be taking on the Columbus Crew at Exploria Stadium tomorrow night.
Ahead of the visit from the Crew I spoke with Orri Benatar, one of the contributors at SBNation’s Massive Report. Orri was kind enough to help get us caught up on a team that Orlando hasn’t faced since the end of last year, so many thanks to him.
Columbus has been struggling with injuries all season, and my heart breaks for former Lion Kevin Molino, who suffered the third ACL injury of his career last week. Are injuries the biggest reason for the team’s topsy-turvy form or is something else going on?
Orri Benatar: Injuries have certainly been a huge factor for the Columbus Crew this season. Nearly every new signing and key player from the 2020 championship team has dealt with a short-term or long-term injury at some point. This has made it more difficult to develop team chemistry, especially in the attack. The injuries have played a part but the performances on the field can’t solely be due to the injuries. The offense has lacked much offensive creativity or consistent finishing in the final third throughout 2021.
Bradley Wright-Phillips was a big name addition during the off-season. How has he looked this year?
OB: Wright-Phillips has not had a prolific season for the Crew. BWP has scored just one goal in MLS play and with Gyasi Zardes missing time with international duty and injuries, Wright-Phillips hasn’t found consistent goal-scoring form in 2021. In fact, the Crew strikers have combined for just eight goals in 22 games with BWP’s one adding to Zardes’ four and youngster Miguel Berry’s three.
Now that we’re approaching the business end of the season, what do you think the expectations should be for this team? Given the injury struggles, would it be enough to simply make the playoffs or do the Crew need to make it and then go on a run to meet expectations?
OB: The expectation at this point is to get to the playoffs first and foremost. After that, a run to another MLS Cup isn’t something that is expected for the Crew with amount of injuries and inconsistencies all season. After the six-game losing streak, the Black & Gold put themselves in the position to essentially make the playoffs as a low seed only. A positive from all of this is the Crew thrive more as an underdog with 2020 as proof.
Are there any injuries, suspensions or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
OB: The Crew will be missing captain Jonathan Mensah and midfielder Liam Fraser to international duty, while also not having Zardes and multiple key players for Saturday’s match. Central midfield will be the biggest question mark with Fraser’s absence leaving just Darlington Nagbe and rookie Isaiah Parente as the lone true CMs. I think that leaves the Crew in a position to play a little more conservatively missing two key players, and this match ends in a 0-0 draw for me — a good result for the Black & Gold on the road.
Projected XI: Eloy Room; Harrison Afful, Vito Wormgoor, Aboubacar Keita, Waylon Francis; Darlington Nagbe, Pedro Santos, Luis Diaz, Lucas Zelarayan; Derrick Etienne, Miguel Berry.
Thank you to Orri for the great insight on the Crew. Vamos Orlando!